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USC neuroscience researchers discuss research opportunities

More than 150 researchers from across the University of South Carolina gathered Monday for the third annual neuroscience community retreat at the Ndoki Lodge at the Riverbanks Zoo.

Faculty members, staff and students from across the university — including the School of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, Arnold School of Public Health, College of Engineering and Computing and College of Arts and Sciences — gave talks and poster presentations about their research, coverage topics including Gulf War Illness, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, concussion and neurological effects of HIV and drug abuse.

Although the university had long employed faculty in various aspects of neuroscience across the campus, there was no way for them to connect, said Janet Fisher, associate professor in the School of Medicine and chair of this year’s retreat. Researchers led by Jeff Twiss, SmartState chair in childhood neurotherapetics, began organizing the first retreat three years ago with support from Carolina’s Office of Research and other centers, schools, colleges and departments across the Columbia campus.

“Neuroscience is a broad discipline, but it’s not attached to any specific department,” Fisher said. “We wanted a way for people from all different schools and departments across the university to find each other.”

The retreat has been especially valuable for graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and junior faculty to learn about the breadth of research taking place at USC, including techniques that they could apply to their projects and opportunities to collaborate, she said. It’s also an opportunity for new faculty to provide updates about new models and technologies that may be unfamiliar to experienced researchers.

Twiss said new cross-collaborations have hatched from the retreat as well as other cooperative opportunities that have sprung from it, such as the neuroscience journal club and monthly networking session. For instance, at this year’s retreat a biomedical engineering student presented research about olive oil and Alzheimer’s disease that he conducted with Fabienne Poulain in biology, a collaboration that was born at a previous retreat.

“As you sit through all the talks, you can see how the brain impacts areas that you wouldn’t have thought of before,” Fisher said.

This year’s presenters included a faculty member from the department of physics and astronomy, a researcher from the Greenwood Genetics Center and a professor from the Medical University of South Carolina, testament to the group’s desire to broaden collaborations across campus and across the state.

Twiss said as the retreat grows, the participating scientists aim to identify more opportunities to collaborate on bigger grant-funded projects to advance the university’s research mission. USC is one of only 32 public universities to earn the Carnegie Foundation’s top-tier designations in research activity and community engagement.

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